Debate over fire retardant toxicity ragesNew regulations aim to protect plants, animals.
By: MEAD GRUVER, The Associated Press
CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Add another concern for the tanker plane pilots who barnstorm low over treacherous terrain, in vintage aircraft, to bomb fire retardant around raging mountain wildfires: Endangered species.
New U.S. Forest Service rules for the use of fire retardant in dozens of national forests seek to prevent the millions of gallons of fire retardant spread over the landscape every year from poisoning streams and killing off protected plants and fish.
Forest Service officials insist the new rules won’t hinder firefighting.
The company that operates almost half of the U.S. private fleet of large tanker planes agrees, for the most part.
“It is an increasing workload, there’s no doubt about that,” said Dan Snyder, president of Missoula, Mont.-based Neptune Aviation Services, which operates eight Lockheed P2V planes.
“It may reduce the speed at which they can affect the fire because they do need to take those few extra minutes to study the charts and plan on how they can put the retardant on the ground and still comply.”
The group that brought about the changes by filing suit says the rules aren’t as big of an issue as whether fire retardant even works.
The Forest Service has never proven in the field that fire retardant is effective, said Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics in Eugene, Ore.
“Why use it if it’s not effective? If it’s not effective, I don’t care if it’s environmentally benign. It’s a waste of money and firefighters’ lives,” Stahl said.
“The case for retardant use is not sufficiently strong to offset the environmental effects.”
Rubbish, say Forest Service officials, who cite decades of rigorous laboratory testing and aerial firefighters who say fire retardant not only works, it works well.